For those who are unable to resolve the issues in their divorce outside of court, the discovery process is often important in a litigated divorce. Discovery enables spouses to request financial and other information from each other and requires them to turn that information over unless they have a good reason for not doing so. Although in mediated divorces, this information is typically provided upon request without the exorbitant fees and time it typically takes with formal discovery. As a recent case out of California’s Second District Court of Appeals shows, stonewalling during discovery usually isn’t the best idea. It could wind up costing you.
Mother and Father had at least two kids before divorcing in 2011. A court awarded Father primary physical custody of the children and ordered that Wife get one weekend of visitation per month and some holidays. The court also ordered the parents to equally split reasonable and necessary health care costs.
Mother returned to court a year later, seeking child support, a custody modification, and broader visitation rights. Father resisted, arguing that Mother was understating her income in court filings by at least $1,000. As part of the discovery process, he asked Mother to turn over certain bank and employment statements. Father also sent subpoenas to two school districts where Mother had previously worked. Mother later told the trial court that she was refusing to provide the information because the requests were an invasion of privacy. Although Mother later dropped her requests for support and to modify custody, the trial judge ordered her to pay $2,000 in sanctions for refusing to comply with the discovery requests.
Affirming the decision on appeal, the Second District said there was plenty of support for the trial court’s finding that Mother’s refusal to engage in the discovery process frustrated the “policy of the law to promote settlement and reduce costs.” Although her gripe about documents dating back 17 years may have had merit, the Court said there was no reason for Mother to stonewall the process completely. “Absent unusual circumstances, the right to full and complete information outweighs privacy rights in financial documents, particularly when there are disputed questions involving financial condition and child support,” the Court explained.
As this case shows, divorce-related cases can raise a number of difficult legal issues. Fortunately, they can usually be resolved without the stress and animosity that often come with full-blown litigation in court. Mediation, collaborative divorce, and other alternatives give former spouses and parents an opportunity to reach solutions with efficiency and mutual respect.
With offices throughout the Bay Area, California divorce lawyer Lorna Jaynes approaches a divorce case as a problem to be solved collaboratively, not a battle to be won. She handles each case personally, taking the time to understand each individual client’s needs and interests and explaining the various options for resolving these matters. Call us at (510) 795-6304 or contact us online to set up an appointment.
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